8 Charged in Illegal Release of 'Star Wars'

Eight Californians were charged Tuesday with involvement in the illegal release of "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" (search) before the movie appeared in theaters.

Court documents allege the piracy began with a "screener" copy of the film at a post-production facility where one of the defendants worked and ended with the movie being released online the day before its worldwide release. "Screeners" are copies of films made available for such purposes as reviewing or for use by voters in industry awards programs.

The case is the latest attempt to crack down on movie piracy by law enforcement and the film industry.

All are accused of misdemeanor copyright infringement charges that carry up to one year in prison. One of the defendants also faces a felony count of uploading the movie onto the Internet, which carries a sentence as long as three years in prison if convicted.

All eight defendants are scheduled to appear in federal court next month.